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34                                                                                                  B'
44Andrei!" called Meresyev feebly, trying to raise
himself on his elbows.
Andrei looked at him in amazement and scarcely con-
cealed fright.                           f                    m
"Andrei! Don't you recognise me? whispered Mere-
syev, feeling that he was beginning to tremble all over.
Andrei looked for another instant at the living skeleton
covered with dark, seemingly charred skin, trying to
discern the merry features of his friend, and only in his
eyes, enormous and almost round, did he catch the frank
and determined Meresyev expression that was familiar to
him. His helmet dropped to the floor, the packets and
parcels came undone, and apples, oranges and biscuits
were scattered on the floor.
"Lyoshka! Is that you?" His voice was husky with
emotion and his long, colourless eyelashes dropped.
"Lyoshka! Lyoshka!" he cried again. He picked the feeble
body from the bed as lightly as though it were that of
an infant, pressed it to his breast and kept on repeating:
"Lyoshka! Lyoshka!"
He held Alexei out in his arms for an instant and gazed
at him, as if trying to convince himself that it was really
his friend, and again pressed him to his breast.
"Yes, it's you! Lyoshka! You son of the devil!"
Varya and the nurse tried to tear the weak body out
of his powerful, bearlike grasp. "For God's sake, let go of
him, there's hardly any life in him!" Varya whispered
"It's bad for him to get excited. Put him down!" the
nurse said, speaking rapidly.
But Andrei, convinced at last that this dark, shrunken,
imponderable body was really that of Alexei Meresyev,
his comrade-in-arms, his friend, whom the whole wing
had given up for dead, put Alexei on the bed, clutched
his own head, uttered a wild cry of triumph, clutched
Alexei by the shoulders, peered into his dark eyes that
were shining with joy out of their deep sockets and
"Alive! Holy Mother! Alive, the devil take you! Where
have you been all these days? What happened to you?"
But the nurse, the chubby little creature with the snub
nose, whom everybody in the wing, ignoring her rank of